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‘Walking Dead’ directly into Sharonville

Horror Hound Weekend to present scary stars. We talk with Merle, and he’s not so awful.

Actor Michael Rooker travels all over the U.S., appearing at conventions and meeting fans. He’ll be in Sharonville this coming weekend for Horror Hound Weekend, chiefly to talk about his character, Merle, from AMC’s hit apocalyptic drama “The Walking Dead.”

While the popular media consensus is that Merle is a repellent personality who has willfully made himself impossible for the show’s heroes to co-exist with, Rooker said the fans have a different response.

“They like Merle,” he said. “They like that he does whatever he wants, doesn’t care about anyone else’s hurt feelings or what they think about him. It’s cool to play a role like that because so many roles are politically correct. (Hollywood) writers rewrite before they even write, because they’re afraid they’re going to offend this group or that group.”

Rooker himself has a sympathetic view of Merle. In fact, he referred to Glenn and Maggie, a pair of mild-mannered Merle antagonists whom most audiences view sympathetically, as “whining idiots.”

“Merle is pretty straightforward,” Rooker said. “When I kidnapped Glenn and Maggie, I just wanted to know where my brother was. If you remember, Merle was the one who put his gun down first, while they kept their guns raised. I think people who are afraid find it easy to misunderstand Merle.”

This sympathy extends even to Merle’s most seemingly indefensible acts, such as the scene where he tied Glenn to a chair and left him alone in a locked room with a zombie. Rooker’s response? “Nobody ever apologized to Merle for leaving him handcuffed on the roof of a building.”

It’s probably clear at this point that, since “The Walking Dead” is an ongoing series, it can be hard to tell where Merle ends and Rooker begins. Indeed, Rooker and method acting go all the back to his very first movie in 1986: “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.”

“Shooting went on all day and it was too difficult to go in and out (of character) with all the editing and the fixing of the lights and all that crap,” he said. “I have a lot more experience nowadays and I’m a lot more focused so I don’t have to do that. But after playing Merle for so many months, the attitude is probably still there, where you can hear it in my voice. I don’t normally do interviews while filming because you have to be able to step away from the character enough to look at it objectively and talk about it intelligently.”

Rooker said that fans occasionally want to talk to him about other projects besides “The Walking Dead.” Considering the theme of Horror Hound Weekend, it wouldn’t be surprising if several people bring up Henry. A fictionalized account of Texas serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry was both acclaimed and notorious at the time for its brutal realism.

“I’ve had people say they liked it but could never watch it again, and others who’ve watched it many times,” Rooker said. “I don’t know why they want to watch it many times. It’s not a ‘jump scare’ kind of movie, so I guess they wanted to analyze what it is about it that scared them. Probably because it doesn’t involve a monster with fangs, but an ordinary-looking joe that could be sitting next to them on the bus on the way to work.”

One particularly notorious scene depicted a horrific home invasion, where a suburban mother, father and teen-aged son are murdered.

“Fifty-sixty percent of the audience walked out at that scene!” Rooker exclaimed. “And yet they’d already seen a ton of horrific things up until that point!” Rooker paused, and added. “I guess they wanted to go home and make sure everyone was OK.”

What is Horror Hound Weekend?

Horror Hound Weekend is an annual convention celebrating horror movies. Activities will include Q&A panels, a costume ball, film screenings (some of which are world premieres) and booths featuring local filmmakers.

In addition to cast members from “The Walking Dead,” celebrity guests include legendary director John Carpenter (“Halloween I” and “II”), legendary makeup artist Tom Savini (“Dawn of the Dead,” “Friday the 13th”), Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Robert Patrick (“Terminator 2”) and Sid Haig (“The Devil’s Rejects”).

Truly nostalgic aficionados will also have a chance to greet Butch Patrick and Pat Priest (“The Munsters”), Diane Franklin (the daughter in “Amityville II: The Possession”) and William Ostrander, Malcolm Danare and Steven Tash, otherwise known as the three bullies from “Christine,” not to mention the car itself.

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